Recent Commonplace Entries


“It’s impossible to know how you will feel at the time, but thinking ahead, if I was in my 80s or 90s with dementia in a care home, I would not mind a Covid death, and might even prefer it to watching Cash in the Attic.” (“MD”, in Private Eye, 25 June – 8 July)

“There sometimes is a misunderstanding of what causes gas prices to increase. The supply availability of oil has a huge impact.” (Jen Psaki, Joe Biden’s press secretary, reported in NYT, July 7)

“Given his priapic tendencies, few would have cracked PWE’s codename for Duff Cooper – ‘The Vicar’.” (Andrew Roberts, in Introduction to David Garnett’s Secret History of PWE)

“Our brains evolved to think of people as members of groups; to trust and care for people who are like us and to be suspicious of people who are unlike us.” (Charles Murray, in Spectator World, July)

“There are two essential qualities of a great translator: a strong understanding of the source language and a fluidity of writing in the target language, which is equally — and arguably even more — important for readers.” (Nikko Odiseos, president of Shambhala Publications, quoted in obituary of Thomas Cleary in NYT, July 12)

“If I had to nominate an ideal poet, a Platonic poet, a conservator and repository of poet DNA, a poet to take after and on and from, a forsake-all-others-save-only-X poet, it wouldn’t be Byron, though it would be close. It wouldn’t be MacNeice, though ditto. It wouldn’t be Mandelstam or Akhmatova or Cavafy or Apollinaire or Ovid or Brecht or Li Bai or Bishop or Baudelaire or Les Murray or T.E. Hulme. It would be Heine. Harry or Heinrich or Henri Heine, to taste. Oscar Wilde’s older Parisian cemetery-mate Heine (1797 (?)–1856).” (Michael Hoffman, in NYRB, July 22) 


“We humans have been inextricably linked with war from the outset and it is this intimate connection with conflict that makes us human.” (Malcolm Murfett, in review of Christopher Coker’s Why War? in Literary Review, July)

“The illustrated newsmagazines leap at me, they almost harass me; like a total stranger grabbing my arm in the street and sputtering his conflict-laden experience-broth at me – from his marital problems to his philosophical ideas, his professional, athletic, and erotic perils, possibilities, prospects, his difficulties in raising his children, his traffic delinquencies, his thoughts on urban planning the fight against cancer food for the world ideas on American Russian Chinese Persian Venezuelan domestic and foreign politics Fidel Castro Onassis Anita Ekberg Karl and Groucho Marx – not because he mistakes me for an old acquaintance with whom he has often discussed such issues and problems (or because he recognizes me as especially open and receptive to them) but simply because he has pulled me out by sheer chance from several tens of thousands and I could just as easily have been another passer-by coming his way – he merely assumes in sovereign schizoid autism that whatever regards concerns occupies excites exasperates him is bound to regard concern occupy excite exasperate someone else, ergo that I must instantly be passionately moved and captivated  – ” (from Gregor von Rezzori’s The Death of My Brother Abel, pp 453-454)

“An yet all of us, with our various current histories, are contained in the entirety of current events – all present, whether as oil sheikhs or big bankers, lunar-rocket passengers or record-breaking athletes, movie stars or duchesses, popular singes, politicians, or gangsters, poisoners, bomb-throwers, or other foul-players – or else as amateur gardeners, animal protectors, good Samaritans, quiet book readers, anchorites, blissful navel contemplators, marijuana smokers. Everything exists in the superreality. Thus it is not reality in motion, like history, but rather the unchanging state of Being in and of itself, of which sometimes this and sometimes that becomes visible.” (from Gregor von Rezzori’s The Death of My Brother Abel, p 456)

“Hamburg, as we know, is called the Gateway to the World, and during those winter days it was worthy of the name. Never before or since has it been the scene of such animate transience as in the first phases of the mass migrations (not yet arranged by travel agencies but triggered by the advancing Russians), when the natives of Brandenburg (pushed by the Upper and Lower Silesians, who passed through Lausitz and the Magdeburg plains into the Hanover region, and from there northwards to Schleswig-Holstein, only to be shoved towards Hesse by the Pomeranians and East Prussians, who were driving the Mecklenburgers before them) advanced into Bavarian territory in order to avoid the Thuringians, who had likewise started moving, while the Rhinelanders, who had been evacuated into the Warthegau, tried to trade positions with the Poles who had been hauled to the mines in the Ruhr; however the Rheinlanders were severely hindered by the Sudeten Germans, who had been thrown westward and whose flanks were being attacked by Transylvanian Saxons and Bukovinan Germans  . . .” (from Gregor von Rezzori’s The Death of My Brother Abel, p 593)

“Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”

“The more that the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” (Dr. Steven Weinberg, in The First Three Minutes, quoted in his NYT obituary, July 26)

“Another cites Rachel Cusk, and indeed this might be read as a less brainy take on Cusk’s thesis that it’s the outwardly kind and sensitive blokes you really have to watch as they’re just as bad as the coke-sniffers and the control-freaks of only pretending to understand, while still getting back late from work and having their mates round for pizza.” (from review of Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss, in Private Eye, July 23-August 5)

“Reading an Empson essay is like being taken for a drive by an eccentric uncle in a terrifyingly powerful old banger. There are disturbing stains on the upholstery and an alarming whiff of whisky in the air, but when he takes another swig from his hipflask and guns the accelerator, your head gets thrown back so far that you just have to make yourself enjoy the ride – even if you’re not quite sure you’re going where you want to go.”  (Colin Burrow, in London Review of Books, July 15)

“Indeed, in Unwiederbringlich, it might well seem that the only thing that is plainly and whole-heartedly disgraceful is just the lack of a sense of humour which prevents self-awareness, an ironical view of oneself, although even here one or two of the minor characters, e.g. Schwarzkopf, pompous though he is, see, exceptions to such a rule.” (Douglas Parmée, in Introduction to his translation of Theodore Fontane’s Irretrievable)

“  . . . Peter Dwyer had ‘acquired that characteristic which marks the true Oxford nan – a refusal to take oneself too seriously!’” (Alan Jarvis, quoted in Mark Kristmanson’s Plateaus of Freedom, p 101)

“And if humour is also a defence, against, among other things, the accusation that one is taking oneself too seriously, Amis may have relied on his identity as a comic writer to shield him from the larger consideration – both private and public – of his stature as an artist.” (Rachel Cusk, in Foreword to Kingsley Amis’s Dear Illusion – Collected Stories)

The Schleswig-Holstein Question: Who Introduced Cricket There?

“While Christine was having this conversation with Julie Dobschütz, Holk and his daughter walked down the hall and then parted a hundred yards further on beside the round patch of lawn where they used to play cricket when there were visitors.” (from Theodore Fontane’s Irretrievable, Chapter 7)

“After Holk had left Asta by the cricket pitch, he went to the nearest greenhouse in front of which his gardener was hard at work.” (from Theodore Fontane’s Irretrievable, Chapter 8)

“You know everything and yet not enough. I think that only husbands and wives themselves can ever know what a marriage really is and sometimes even they do not know. An outsider sees every moment of pique and hears every argument, for strangely enough married couples don’t generally hide all their disagreements and quarrels from others, ye, it sometimes seems almost as if others are meant to hear them, as if all the most violent things were intended especially for them. But that gives a false picture, because as long as some love still remains, marriage always has another side to it.” (Christine to Julie, from Theodore Fontane’s Irretrievable, Chapter 9)

“Loose living only harms morals but the pretence of being virtuous harms the whole man.” (Ebba to Holk, from Theodore Fontane’s Irretrievable, Chapter 22)

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